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The hard life of a hummingbird
Last Post 06/09/2014 10:36 AM by Joe Rockbottom. 8 Replies.
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12/05/2013 02:30 PM
Winter in Portland. I "have" two Anna's hummingbirds that have been wintering here for the past 8 or so years. It's entirely possible, in fact almost certain they have not been the same birds as 8 years is about their maximum life expectancy with 2-3 being far more the norm. It has always been a male, larger, more colorful (though from my windows they are always back-lit and I cannot see their colors from inside) and a smaller either female or juvenile. (I think of it/her as female but they have never chosen to enlighten or correct me.) The male is larger, is far more adept at the feeders and is aggressive, dive-bombing female,juveniles and other species of hummers to protect his food supply. He is also completely unafraid of me.

This morning it was 20 degrees when I got up. Feeders were frozen. We set out fresh sugar water and will probably be doing the same every morning of the rest of the week. As I write this, the male is feasting on the other side of the window, puffed up to twice his normal size to stay warm. (That warmth bit is a real challenge for them. Their daytime body temperature is 105-8 degrees, right now 87 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Combine that with their body weight of 3 grams (one penny) of fat (not much!). muscle, blood, feathers, bone and organs and you can see they have to be VERY active just to stay alive. I have read that in cold weather, they can live maybe 4 hours without food. Now they can go into a hibernation-like state to save energy where they lower their body temperature to 60 degrees, but they better have a safe place to do it. If a predator approaches, it will be 20 minutes before they are warmed enough to fly. More likely they are a crunchy snack.

And Alphi is back! "Alphi" is my nickname for the male, the alpha hummingbird of the neighborhood. Alphi gets by far the most of the sugar water I put out, but I do it more for the timid female who I worry about a lot more. (We keep three feeders going, two in front and one in back, in front of the windows we use the most. This way, the female can feed at a feeder Alphi cannot see. (Actually, Alphi has been known to hang out at treetop in the front yard were he can see over the house and the approaches to the feeder. I haven't yet seen him dive-bomb over the house but I wouldn't put it past him. Bu that is a summertime activity. Now it's too cold. He just flies in, drinks his fill and leaves.)

In this cold weather, the two birds will drain 2/3s of the sugar water in my 3 feeders in about 3 days. At 2 1/2 oz of sugar water/feeder, that's about 140 grams consumed. Not bad for 6 grams of bird! That's approaching 23 times their body weight per day! And that sugar water is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water by volume. So much sugar, I have to heat it to a near boil to dissolve it all.

Amazing little critters.



12/05/2013 04:22 PM
Good for you. They need all the help they can get in this weather.


12/06/2013 08:41 AM
good on you ben. we put out feeders during the warm months here in chicago, but they go bye-bye in the fall. bringing the mixture just to a boil is the recommended procedure.

keep up the good work!


12/06/2013 08:55 AM
Ben check out this video I shot. Out hiking one day and came upon a banding going on.


12/06/2013 12:47 PM
This morning, 20 degrees, windy and a light dusting of very dry snow. Another tough dat to be a hummer. All the feeders were frozen. I put out new sugar water but it was in the fridge since I mix up a month's supply at a time and minutes later, I already see ice at the top. But Alphi just got a good drink, so I have a few more minutes!

Having a second set of feeders makes this much easier. (The Audubon Society has really simple hummer feeders that look like an upside-down test tube with a red cap at the bottom. $8 and really easy to clean. So having two complete sets is no big deal and makes changing the water one trip around the house instead of two. A 16 oz bottle will fill three feeders twice exactly. Kirkland/Costco vanilla extract 16 bottles do it both exactly and pour beautifully.

I just saw what I wanted to see. The female/juvenile. She didn't drink (damn it! Go for it girl! You need that stuff!) but at least I know she is still alive and well. And two minutes later, Alphi shows up. 'll bet that is why the female didn't stick around.

Orange Crush


06/08/2014 08:09 PM
just now, shot with the Panasonic pocket camera in our front garden, 2nd time in a week I saw a hummingbird which are first occasions in the 10yrs since we lived here. I've been turning what used to be stupid front lawn into a mini-glade.



06/08/2014 09:54 PM
Humming birds are so amazing!

Thanks for taking care of them and sharing your stories and photos/videos!


06/08/2014 10:58 PM
When I first came out west, I was working in the bush staking claims in clear cuts and these large buzzing insects kept humming by just above. I had never seen hummingbirds before. Took a while before I figured out what they were. I see them in Whistler often now. And in North Van too when lived there.


06/09/2014 10:36 AM
I never thought about it but was amazed to learn how far these birds travel. A person in the South has been tracking birds for years and found they often travels thousands of miles annually, like showing up at feeders thousands of miles from her house.. Tough little birds!
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